Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, what is the noble Lord telling us? He is saying that during the 17 years of Conservative rule, against the wishes of the Labour Party, a sinister group has somehow taken charge of our education. Surely the noble Lord, who is highly intelligent, is not going to ask us to believe that.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the noble Earl will bear with me, I am about to say what I think the Conservative Party's mistake may have been. And, yes, I do expect the noble Earl to believe that there has been a very unfortunate association of people in our education system who have promoted relativism and a lack of the Christian values, which he so rightly espouses, to the detriment of many of our children.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, can be fairly accused of clinging for too long to the ideal that politics should not have interfered in education, thus allowing the cancer to spread. I am fairly sure of this because I must have beseeched every Education Minister from 1983 onwards to see what was going on and to take action. But they always looked at me as though I had just said that I had seen the Loch Ness monster. They always said that the Government should not interfere in academic freedom and that we had to trust the system. No doubt the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would have agreed with them.

So, I believe that blame can be distributed fairly evenly between the political parties. New Labour is now starting to make some encouraging noises and the Government have at last taken strong action. They have set up a new teacher-training agency, which I hope will collaborate actively with Ofsted. The trouble is that the cancer runs so deep now that too many of the inspectors upon which the new inspection systems depend are inevitably people who were brought up under the discredited ideologies to which I have referred.

5 Jul 1996 : Column 1742

But that is a problem which will face new Labour if, almost inconceivably, it ever comes to power, just as much as it faces us. So I take some comfort from the present state of political agreement over education. Whatever our differences may be--and they are, of course, substantial--I feel that both new Labour and the Conservative Party now see clearly that the "long march through the institutions" must be turned around and marched back. It will be a long and arduous process. It will still leave a generation of children educationally deprived by the wayside, but it will allow space for the five Rs to be returned to the curriculum and it will therefore eventually do much for the moral well-being of our society.

I come now to our spiritual well-being which, I suggest, includes seeking to know the difference between good and evil and doing our best to associate with good in the fight against evil. I accept that our spiritual welfare is primarily our own individual responsibility, of course. But we should be aided in its quest by our religion, by our priests and by our religious leaders. Generally speaking, in the modern world we are not getting that guidance, that spiritual leadership from established religions.

I know our religious professionals face enormous difficulties in their promotion of the spiritual dimension, difficulties which did not exist only 100 years ago. The most reverend Primate and others have referred to the pernicious effects of moral relativism, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in one of the best speeches I have been privileged to hear in your Lordships' House, dealt very wisely with the colossal new problem of television. I feel sure that detailed examination of our media and cultural studies courses would go some way to explaining some of the moral abyss which appears so regularly on our television screens.

But I was a little shocked to notice an obvious omission from the most reverend Primate's speech. He rightly pointed out that responsibility for our moral and spiritual well-being lies not just with our schools. He said that that responsibility is also carried by families and by what he called the wider community. But I did not hear him mention the Church, which many of us feel is not providing the spiritual leadership so desperately needed by modern society.

Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of embarking on a verbal crusade against the Church, but I have three requests for the most reverend Primate and his colleagues on the Bishops Bench. The first two are of a fairly secular nature; the third will take me into deeper and more spiritual waters.

First, could the most reverend Primate satisfy himself that the courses in our theological colleges do not suffer from the moral relativism to which he has referred? I admit that I have not been closely in touch with these courses for some two years now and it may be that they are less unhealthy than they were; but I feel that an open-minded analysis would still be very valuable.

Secondly, could I ask him to see whether there is not some way in which our truly spiritual clergymen could be promoted more often than their less spiritual but perhaps more academic colleagues? Could I put it to

5 Jul 1996 : Column 1743

him that it often matters less what a priest says from the pulpit than how he says it, than with what spiritual charge he speaks? Could I put it to him that our parsons must get back to helping us with the salvation of our souls and that they must become less concerned with general social problems which are now dealt with, however inadequately, by the welfare state. With the greatest respect, I believe that the Church should stop worrying so much about our collective guilt and get back to helping us confront our personal sin.

Finally, I turn to the deeper waters, to the spiritual dimension. Here I feel bound to draw on my religious experience 19 years ago, which of course remains vividly with me today and which delivered too many insights and messages, some of them controversial, to mention now. But were I to pick out just one of them, it is that the Church must start to take evil, the reality of evil, seriously again.

I know that we have to be very careful about defining what is evil, but the word exists and it must have a meaning. I would suggest that the holocaust was not just wrong, it was evil; and Stalin's murder of so many millions of people was evil. It is perhaps evil which showed its head again in Dunblane. I am sure that your Lordships can think of many other examples.

If we do not believe in evil, and take it seriously, how can we really believe in God either? There does not seem to be any point in good unless evil exists as well. I fear you cannot have one without the other. So I hope the Church can look again at the reality of evil and to proclaim it more widely. If it can do so, it will start to lose the image of a glorified social service where everything can be forgiven and repaired on this earth.

I end by reminding the most reverend Primate that Jesus did not tell us to turn the other cheek to the devil. In doing so, I thank him for introducing this invaluable debate today and may I wish him Godspeed on his extraordinarily difficult mission.

2.55 p.m.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, society's moral well-being is, or should be, an important objective for people of all religions and, indeed, for those who have none. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has, no doubt very rightly, put an emphasis on the responsibility of schools. I was delighted to hear him say--I believe that he used the word "ghetto-ised"--that matters of religion, morals and ethics should not be just slotted into one particular subject. Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris said, I believe that such matters should not be taught simply as a non-examinable subject or subjects and, therefore, spotlighted, as it were, to pupils and students as being in some way less important, less significant, than other subjects.

To my mind, morals and ethical standards should inform and be an integral part of many subjects. Most obviously, I suppose, I have in mind English literature and history, but, as my noble friend Lord Winston and other speakers have pointed out, the moral implications of science in its many forms are equally important. At university level, morality should, it seems to me,

5 Jul 1996 : Column 1744

form an explicit part of commerce and business studies; as, indeed, should political theory, as well as the more obvious subjects of jurisprudence and divinity.

However, this afternoon I should like to stress not just the responsibility of schools and other educational institutions, and, of course, parents, in all such matters, vital though that is, but also the responsibility of influential leaders in our society. Most obviously, I refer to our politicians and our business and commercial leaders. I suppose that there is also a responsibility, though it may be less easy to persuade them, on all the people whose utterances and behaviour have an impact on citizens of all ages, especially the young.

I include among those people editors, sporting heroes and pop stars. They can be role models. They may not choose to be influential but, whether or not they choose to be so, their impact through the publicity given to their activities and behaviour both on and off the sports field and on and off the stage involves, to my mind, a responsibility to behave in a moral and ethical way

I should like to focus particularly on business ethics and the responsibility of business men and women for society's moral well being. There may be people--there may even be people in this House--who are so cynical as to suggest that "business ethics" is an oxymoron. But I take the view that, in a competitive marketplace at any rate, a company's own enlightened self-interest dictates that the business should behave in an ethical manner. If a commercial organisation wants to create a good, long-term reputation with customers, employees and other stakeholders, it should, as a matter of its own choice and probably in its own best interests, do more than simply comply with the bare requirements of the law.

One of the key ways of competing for market share may well be to demonstrate high ethical standards. I am talking about establishing a reputation for integrity, honesty and fair dealing that is both deserved and consistent and, I think, made more firm as time goes by. I am happy to note that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, who has spoken in today's debate, said something similar in a lecture that he gave earlier this year in the United States. He said:

    "The most critical factor in explaining the superior performance of excellent companies [is] the concept of 'shared values' based on honesty, trust and employee satisfaction".

Yet there is a paradox here, which I seemed to note being recognised in the excellent maiden speech today of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. The paradox is that the very keenness and intensity of competition in the marketplace may push businesses into taking not the long-term view but the short-term view and cutting corners and reducing standards. It seems to me that unbridled competition can indeed tempt even the normally reputable firms to lower quality standards and to lower standards of moral behaviour in order to survive.

Since "Big Bang" 10 years ago the City of London is of course a more competitive and more efficient environment which has included the growth of financial conglomerates and the arrival of many outsiders from the United States, the Continent of Europe and Japan. What that has meant, however, alongside the greater

5 Jul 1996 : Column 1745

efficiency, has been that the old club-like atmosphere and the old self-regulatory constraints on behaviour no longer seem adequate to maintain high ethical standards or the avoidance of conflicts of interest. Increasingly, the law has had to be brought in to buttress moral standards. Again and again in the commercial sphere modern conditions seem to require that moral standards are backed by the sort of detailed law contained in the financial services Act, the laws against insider trading and other such measures.

My next point is particularly relevant to today's debate. Surely we as a nation do not wish to rely too heavily on the law and on detailed rules and regulations. They can extend too far. They lack flexibility and they bring an increase in bureaucracy. They can lead to mindless concern with rules rather than with their purpose and with the letter rather than with the spirit. Moral standards without legal underpinning will often in modern conditions be inadequately supported. However, a society that leaves nothing to an individual's sense of what is right and moral is no longer a free society. Society needs legal rules--I accept that inevitably nowadays there are more legal rules than in less complex times--but also a powerful collective shared sense of morality and of high ethical standards. To put it perhaps even more strongly, we also need a strong sense of shame and moral outrage at behaviour that falls below those standards.

Standards need to be taught at school and elsewhere, but they also need to be actively promoted by all organisations--whether in business or otherwise--that have the power to influence and mould opinion among their members. If he did not use the word today, I believe that the most reverend Primate on a radio programme earlier today used the word "action". If action is needed by a number of different institutions, that would include in the context of my remarks action by such bodies as the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the chambers of commerce and others. They can influence the maintenance of high standards. It is a challenge to all in positions of political and commercial leadership to ensure that they have nothing to be ashamed of in the way they allow their organisations to be conducted.

3.5 p.m.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, even though in a previous incarnation he once tried to get me sent to gaol, because I very much agree with the speech that he made. I agreed with the speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I am slightly surprised to say that because I have to declare an interest. Neither I, my wife, my children or my grandchildren subscribe to any religious beliefs. That was the case also with my wife's parents--my late noble kinsman McFadzean of Kelvinside and his wife. And we think that we are a pretty normal bunch. We have a lot of friends. I am ecstatically happily married. So far as I know none of us takes drugs; I, of course, exclude alcohol. And we represent, I think, quite a lot of people.

5 Jul 1996 : Column 1746

I am having difficulty, frankly, in finding any points about which we disagree other than on two or three rather obtuse philosophical references. I am aware of the importance of the Church to many people and the comfort which they draw from it. What I do not accept is that people who hold sincere religious views, or any other group of what we must all accept are mere mortals, constitute some moral Herrenvolk, blessed with unique qualities of compassion and concern which are only dimly apparent to the rest of us.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page